After Amnesty International dubbed the upcoming FIFA world cup the ‘Qatar World Cup of Shame’, this article aims to explore the controversies surrounding this year’s tournament.
For decades the FIFA world cup has been one of the most viewed sports tournaments in the world, with the 2018 competition being watched by a combined 3.57 billion viewers. Now, with less than 50 days to go till the 2022 tournament, FIFA bosses are expecting this year to be its biggest yet, reaching over 5 billion viewers. FIFA president Gianni Infantino defends the choice of Qatar as the 2022 host, maintaining that the sport ‘will help change the perspective of Qatar’.
However, since 2010 when Qatar was successful in their bid for the 2022 tournament, only controversy has followed. The initial controversies included the lack of football related infrastructure in the nation and the issue of the weather’s impact on playing conditions. Yet, FIFA chose to circumvent these fundamental issues by making the executive decision to make it a winter tournament. With Qatar also committing to building seven new stadiums, hotels and other training facilities in order to host the tournament.
In 2013, a bigger shadow of doubt was cast over the choice host nation when serious accusations were made against the Qatari government regarding the treatment of workers hired to refurbish the Khalifa Stadium in Doha as well as build the ‘Aspire Zone’ in surrounding areas. This zone was to include other sporting facilities as well as the construction of more accommodation. Amnesty International reported ‘serious exploitation’ of migrant workers, who were subjected to gruelling manual labour, insufficient pay and unsatisfactory living standards. The reports proved the Qatari government were showing no active commitment to fundamentally improving their human rights standards, like they had promised to FIFA in 2010.
Along with accusations of forced labour, accounts of workers stated they were forced to sign false statements that they had received their wages to regain their passports. One Nepalese worker revealed to Amnesty that once he was paid months after entering the country, he was earning the equivalent of US$190 a month. Regarding living conditions, Qatari law and the Workers Welfare standards allow for a maximum of four beds per room, prohibited bed sharing and the use of bunk beds. However, Amnesty revealed workers were living in cramped, dirty and unsafe conditions, with men sleeping on bunk beds and living in rooms of 8 or more people.
For one of the richest countries in the world, many migrant workers were being treated like they were sub-human, deprived of pay and left struggling to survive and provide for their families – a ruthless exploitation. It wasn’t until 2014, when a video emerged of the ‘employed’ migrant workers in Doha living in unsanitary and dilapidated conditions, that the issue became more prominent in the Western media headlines. Several human rights organisations in collaboration with FIFA have publicly condemned the worker abuse, promising that reforms will be implemented. However, the extent of success is up for debate. In 2021, a Guardian article reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago. The number is expected to be higher due to the amount of deaths that have gone unreported.
The controversies regarding Qatar’s views on homosexuality also gained significant attention, and for good reason. Currently in Qatar they repress the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and punish same-sex relations with up to 7 years in prison. Due to homosexuality being illegal in the host nation, it placed a lot of question marks surrounding the safety of the LGBT+ community, whether it be attendees, players, workers or managerial staff. Rumours and allegations started to circulate that Qatar had planned to introduce ‘medical screening tests’ to ‘detect’ and ban homosexuals from entering the country. However, the 2022 FIFA committee debunked this statement, saying no such screenings exist, instead the idea stemmed from Kuwait, not Qatar.
Countries have been choosing ways to ‘boycott’ without withdrawing from the competition in various ways. Denmark and their designer Hummel created three ‘toned down’ kits to draw attention to the migrant worker abuse. In September the team released a statements showing their trio of strips, one white, one red and the third one being black to act as a symbol for the workers who died.
Moreover, nine European nations, including England and Wales, have chosen to wear the ‘One Love’ captain armbands in a stand against the Qatari governments stance on homosexuality. However, there are debates currently circulating on whether or not the armbands will be banned at the tournament. Defending champions, France, have decided to take a different stance where many cities in the country are not broadcasting the game on large screens in the infamous ‘fan zones’, including Paris. The deputy mayor of Paris defended the choice as the ‘conditions in which these facilities have been built are to be questioned’, with the Qatar model ‘going against everything that Paris, as hosts of the 2024 Olympics wants to organise’.
The Qatari government have spent an estimated $200bn on creating their World Cup and there is no doubt it will be a spectacular competition. In what could be the last time we see some of the greats like Messi and Ronaldo play a tournament of this magnitude for their country, it should not be a competition riddled with accusations of bribery, reports of abuse and deaths of workers building the very facilities the matches will be getting played in.